There were two things I dreaded about having chemotherapy. One was the nausea – it’s a pretty well known… almost an infamous side effect. And the other was losing my hair… again a fairly publicly visible outcome.
The first has proved relatively manageable. The hospital wants you to be able to function as normally as possible and they dosed me up on steroids and gave me two other kinds of drugs to take home to manage the nausea. On top of that, a good friend who started her chemo about six weeks before me, gave me some excellent advice. She said not eating makes the nausea worse. It is critical to keep eating. Luckily I had some evidence to support this. After my PET scan (for reasons I don’t quite know), I felt horribly nauseous. When my husband came to pick me up, I was very fragile and just wanted to lie still and concentrate on not being sick. Luckily, my husband persuaded me to eat something. His logic was that I’d had two weird meals (no fat or carbs) and then fasted for six hours. Chances are, I was hungry. It seemed reasonable and so I battled my instinct and nibbled very cautiously through a piece of Vegemite toast (yes, some people do like Vegemite.. ESPECIALLY when sick). It worked. The nausea didn’t magically disappear but it abated significantly and the experience made me realize that eating was not my enemy. So, when I got home after my first chemo session, I was determined to eat. And my friend proved absolutely right. The moment I feel a bit green, I get myself a snack and it really helps. Note: I definitely use the drugs as well. I’m not soloing on food!!
The weird thing, that isn’t so well portrayed on all the movies about people having chemotherapy, is that your tastes and your stomach are doing pretty bizarre things. The chemo can cause either constipation or diarrhea so you feel like you’re on this balancing wire of fibre intake. In addition, you get a weird metallic taste in your mouth which totally messes with your taste buds. Meat is pretty foul (I guess because of the iron in it?). On Saturday I spent significant effort making myself a chicken noodle soup. I was craving a salty light soup and this is what came to mind. As I pulled the chicken apart, it smelled delicious. But when I got to actually eating it, eating the chicken was like eating rubber. I didn’t enjoy it at all (luckily my son did). That was a huge disappointment. Since then, I asked my husband to buy in some instant noodles. They aren’t healthy but they’re such a strong salty flavour and have that hot soupiness. They drown out the horrible chemo taste and are strangely comforting. A nurse at the hospital recommended strong sweet flavours as being commonly popular. So I have also been enjoying regular cups of hot Ribena (remember, it’s winter here so hot is good).
So that’s fear number one.
I haven’t really dealt with fear number two yet – the hair loss. I think I have about a week left with my own hair. The thought of being bald is completely terrifying to me. I have never liked my ears and know that I have at least one big skin tag on my skull which is unlikely to look pretty. Also, bald women (instead of reminding me of heroes of feminism like Sinead O’Connor) just remind me of witch hunts and being burned at the stake and concentration camps. My head is so stupid. There was a young girl in the hospital having chemotherapy and she looked beautiful in her baldness. She could totally have been an ad for it. But she deserves to look beautiful. Fancy going through this crap at her age.
Anyway, so I have to go wig shopping. That will be confronting.
So all I’m saying is, it’s not what I expected. And in a lot of ways I’m hugely relieved. If I have a phobia, it’s vomiting. But it’s very much more complicated than I realized (even although I have interrogated people who have been through it). And when people talk about how tired it makes you…. I had NO idea. On Sunday, walking down the hall and back made me feel shaky and weak. All I wanted was to lie with my eyes shut. No hope of reading anything. No desire, to be honest. Just breathing was perfectly sufficient. Well, that wasn’t possible on Sunday as we had a little girl with an important birthday to celebrate. But luckily my husband and the grandparents stepped in and made everything happen for her. And I was just there – a kind of droopy shadow Mum. I think she had a great day, even so. Thank goodness for a wonderful husband and family!!
Oh my goodness… the number of times I have said thank you in the last week!!! I mean, last night, my husband made stuffed capsicums for dinner. They were exquisite! What a hero!
Anyway, so today I am taking it easy so that I have the energy to pick the kids up from school and take them to their music lessons. I usually love Wednesday afternoons as the music school seems to be a congregation point for people I have known from all different stages of the kids’ lives. It feels so nice to be in a community and know all these people. I had quite a peripatetic childhood and early adulthood so it’s taken me a long while to realize how awesome it is to just stay in one place and let a network form.
Here’s my drawing from this morning – taken from a bunch of National Geographic magazines an experienced friend dropped around – knowing how vague one’s brain is. She said “Just look at the pictures. Sometimes it’s all you can manage.” How right she was.